Friday, March 20, 2009

Experiential Learning

Before I get started on talking pottery, I wanted to share a couple of pictures from Sylvan Heights. Taking students there for a field trip last week gave me the chance to visit this waterfowl preserve for the fourth time. Each time I go, I am amazed by the variety and quantity of birds from all over the world in the park . If you are a bird lover or just someone who enjoys nature and the outdoors, I highly recommend planning a trip to Scotland Neck, North Carolina, to visit Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park.

I love to read books on how to do things. It provides me with all sorts of information and ideas based on the work of others who have already gone through the process and mastered various skills. However, it is by jumping in and getting my hands dirty (literally, in pottery) that I am able to assimilate the information and develop my own set of skills. Since I last blogged, I have had the opportunity to work on a healthy number of skills and, though I am far from mastering any of them, I can say that I have learned a great deal.

Last night, I glazed a piece of pottery for the first time with a spray gun! Granted, it was only one piece (a carved pitcher I made specifically for glazing with Tenmoku glaze), but I was able to experience firsthand the application process and also get a little insight into the pros and cons of glazing this way. On the plus side, it certainly was quick, both in applying and in drying, and easy to see that the coat of glaze was uniformly covering the piece. It was also the case in which the amount of Tenmoku available was ample for spraying, but would have been close to impossible for dipping and I would have had to resort to pouring glaze on the pitcher - something I have not had much luck with as far as getting a consistent covering. On the down side, I felt like there was much more clean-up involved with spraying: the spray gun, the glaze reservoir, the screen and container for preparing the glaze to go into the reservoir, and the mixing paddle. However, the results, which I won't see for at least a week, will hopefully prove that pros outweigh the cons and I am looking forward to learning how to overlap glazes for different effects.

I have also been working more at carving on pieces to create a more interesting look. This week, I was working on an urn in which I added a "door" and was trying to include some windows, but had some trouble with getting the carvings to work the way I wanted. So, rather than risk destroying the urn with too much carving, I did away with the windows idea for the time being and added some places that look like stucco had peeled off a building, revealing a brick wall underneath. I was pleased with the result, and have made sketchs of the windows idea in my log for future reference.

The final bit of my learning curve from this past week was in getting back the casserole I had glazed last week (remember the flying saucer???). First, the glaze did not exactly turn out the way I envisioned it, although it was not horrible. The real problem was with the lid. Apparently, in my zeal to produce lighter, thinner work, I made the lid too thin and it cracked on top (I can see daylight when I hold it up!) and, in trying to make the lid fit close to perfect, I did not account for the clay expanding in the final firing and it no longer fits the bottom. It is close enough that I think I can maybe grind the lip to make it fit and I will then use it - it is not something that I would be willing to sell, even as a second.

One final note - I went to visit my mom and see my brother and sister and their families last weekend in Arlington, Virginia. While I was there, I had a chance to go visit the Torpedo Factory in Old Town Alexandria. This World War II torpedo factory on the river has been converted into three floors of artist studios where the public can come in a see the artists at work, purchase original art pieces, and even participate in seminars and lessons. If you are ever in the Northern Virginia area, I highly recommend checking it out. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the pottery studios and meeting and talking with David Cowdrill, a potter who was manning the Kiln Club's annual exhibition.

This upcoming weekend should provide time for working on another possible piece for the North Carolina Pottery Center exhibition in Seagrove as well as building my inventory of items for a sale in Halifax in April during the celebration of the signing of the Halifax Resolves.

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